Have you been startled by a flurry of little flying beasts bursting out of the container of flour or corn meal you planned to use? If so, you’ve met one of the nasty “pantry pests.” Meal moths and pantry beetles are unwanted visitors to your food and dry goods stash. They can crawl through cracks, fly through open windows, or hitch a ride via packaged food where they can rapidly spread to other foodstuffs.
The most common pantry pest is the small, reddish brown Indian meal moth. They feed on lots of things from cereal, flour and rice to dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and candy, to pet food and bird seed. All the damage is done by the larvae. Adult females lay eggs in or near dried food; the larvae produce thin webs over the surface of food, then when full-grown, crawl across walls and ceilings to hide in cracks and crevices, often far from their original food source. During warm weather, it takes only six to eight weeks for the moth to go through its growth stages so there’s a potential for multiple generations each year.
No matter which pantry pest has invaded your cabinets, they can be a challenge. To get these little beasts under control:
- Find the source and eliminate it: Look for a package damaged at the store or an open container that hasn’t been used for a while. You may see tiny holes in containers or webbing in the storage area. Most often, by the time you notice the pests, they’ve already spread to other food packages. Destroy the suspected source.
- Inspect and toss: Remove everything from the storage area and examine each container under a bright light for the presence of adult beetles, larvae, shed larval skins, off-odors, and colors. Don’t be timid – toss any container that is even slightly questionable.
- Clean up: Vacuum floors, shelves, and walls of cabinets, particularly cracks and crevices, to remove eggs and pupae. Wash all surfaces with soap and water (be sure to get those corners).
- Prevent further incidents: Store any susceptible food in airtight containers (plastic bags aren’t adequate) or in a refrigerator or freezer. Don’t purchase broken or damaged packages of food materials; store bulk materials (like pet foods) in containers with tight-fitting lids and clean the containers before filling them with fresh food. Keep storage units dry to discourage these pests.
Once you’ve cleaned up an infestation, monitor the area for pests that might have been missed.